Derek Vincent Smith, or as you probably know him “Pretty Lights,” has held an impressive career. Active since 2006, he has created a unique stage persona with genre-crossing beats, much of which are based on vinyl samples. Oh, and the eponymous pretty lights. We were able to sit down with him at Governor’s Ball and talk about his upcoming new album, various aspects of his past work, and even Daft Punk’s self-centeredness.
Danny Vega: We’re excited for A Color Map Of The Sun [his new album]. What made you want to make an album with modular synths and your own studio recordings?
Pretty Lights: Well I made 7 or 8 albums up to that point that were an evolving style of sample collaging, and the reason I sampled was because I craved the timbre from past generations. I always knew that there was so much that went into that [sound]. You can’t just plug a guitar into a computer and have it sound like an early 70’s Grover Washington Jr. record– so much goes into the timbre of vinyl sampling and that is an integral part of my style.
So, after I finished my last three EPs, which I did in one year, I was trying to think of something that would be a massive challenge for myself and just a really cool project. I wanted to also prove to myself I could do it. It seemed like the ultimate dream of a sample producer. It was terrifying, but I got better working with modular synths every day through out the process. It was just a dream that I wanted to live out, and it worked out. I’m really stoked on it.
DV: Some electronic music is seen by some as mechanical or detached from real life. Do you agree with that? Do you think it has an emotional resonance and if so, how?
PL: My take on that question regarding emotional detachment in very electronic dance music is that I feel like every different kind of music has a certain kind of power. Whether it’s old ’60s soul that has this deep life-relating emotional power, or a fully minimal techno producer from Germany or something using only Fruity Loops. It still possesses some kind of power even if it’s like a kinetic power.
If the music is good, it can make people move and there is something to be said for that. My goal with production is to take all these different forms of power and ways that music can affect the listener and fuse it together: emotionally, kinetically and inspirationally and make people want to exude energy. I want my music to inspire people to have new ideas, or make them want to create something themselves.
DV: A lot of thought and effort goes into your album covers. What inspires you when coming up with a cover?
PL: Mainly what inspires me is the concept that brought about the name of the project which is Pretty Lights. A lot of people think that name embodies my live performance, the fact that I have a big-cool-wow light show, but it doesn’t. I had the name far before I was touring and even further before I had the success to have a big light show.
The name really is about the little things that are beautiful that we experience throughout the day that inspire people with an artistic eye and that’s what I try to capture with my record covers. With the first few, I collaborated with PLM artist Michael Mennert. With the last four, I collaborated with other artists. This last one I worked with favorite graphic designer ISO 50 also known as Tycho. He’s a musician and we worked closely together to create this like retro-future-analog-electronic vibe that also embraced the concept of pretty light and matched the music, and really just came to embody the sound.
DV: I saw your Coachella interview for Fuse. You mentioned being excited about Dog Blood, Boys Noize and Skrillex’s new project, is there a partner you can see yourself working with in that kind of capacity?
PL: You know there are a lot of good people. I’m really good friends with Troy from Datsik and we are working on some collaboration. I’m good friends with Lauren of Bassnectar and Chris Karns who is one of the best turntableists in the world, and who also happens to be from Denver. I’m just starting to get into collaborating with other musicians and it’s not really something I’ve done a lot in the past. I’m finding I really love it so maybe one day that’ll happen.
DV: The first Pretty Lights song I heard was a mashup album with Notorious BIG rapping over it. It was insane.
PL: That’s dope. You know When sampling rap a capellas, I’m looking for phrases that express what I want to express, so often find it in Notorious BIG lyrics.
DV: What did you think of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories?
PL: Well, the thing is I have not had the time to really listen to the record. I’ve read interviews and stuff and they expressed they’re trying to bring EDM back into this organic realm and they were like the pioneers of that. I sat there thinking “Wait! Wait! You don’t know about me! I do that!”
DV: Do you think Daft Punk is narcissistic?
PL: (Laughs) I actually have no idea if Daft Punk is narcissistic, but I would like to meet them.
DV: Is there any chance of you doing a Reddit AMA? You’ve been requested a few times.
PL: I am very interested in doing an AMA. I’m just waiting for the right time to do it. It’s crazy with my schedule because of the tour, writing, directing and all that. I’m writing and directing the new Pretty Lights music video. We have two kittens on the bus and we’re trying to get them to be friends, but when the time is right, I would love it. I’d love to get an intimate conversation with my fans and really explain things in a deep way and at the same time deal with any negative rumors about me and also focus on the positive stuff as well. So I’m really looking forward to doing that.
DV: We met some Pretty Lights Family members and they want to know your opinion of them.
PL: I’m wearing a PLF pin on my hat right now so I am a big fan of the PLF. They are a very roots community. They built this thing up themselves. They communicate with my girlfriend Crystal often and she handles alot of my social media so we communicate together with them and even collaborate. We’re starting to collaborate with PLF.
The PLF fanclub makes really cool stuff like this pin I’m rocking on my hat and there’s this girl who makes these dope festival pouches for girls that we connected with. I think its really cool to actually collaborate with my fans. Having a loyal and mutual respect kind of relationship is one thing but working on creative projects is rare so I’m very, very stoked on the fact that this came into existence and I really just want to encourage it and push this as far as it could go.
DV: Your music reminds me of Thievery Corporation. I don’t think I’ve seen you mention them in any interviews, are you inspired by them?
PL: At one point in time, Thievery Corporation was the group that never left my CD player in my car. Right After I graduated from high school, I rocked Mirror Conspiracy on the daily. They were an inspiration for sure. I could definitely see the connection you know its like that hip hop dub/electronic music but my biggest influences I really feel like are like Bonobo, DJ Shadow, Premiere– producers like that, RZA even– but Thievery Corporation took up a big chunk of my hours.
DV: This was another question we got from a Pretty Lights Family member. Can you comment on the theme of Taking Up Your Precious Time in terms of travel, trains, and Europe?
PL: Yeah for sure. That was the first Pretty Lights record. I try to make my albums and song names have a motif so that they are connected to each other, but sometimes it’s vague but on that album it’s the least vague in that every song title can somehow be related to the concept of train traveling since a lot of that record was produced traveling on trains through Europe.
The biggest track is called “Finally Moving” because the feel of the track when your waiting in line and waiting for the train and you boarded, and you finally get moving. There is a song called “Wrong Platform” which represents the anxiety and adrenaline you get when you’re about to miss your train. There’s a track called “Short Line” and it’s about the feeling of being so stoked that you’re not going to have to wait in a long and empty station. They are all about that, and yes that’s true.
DV: The first song I heard of yours was “I Know the Truth.” It’s such a great tune, but doesn’t fit in with most of your work. That’s just such an aggressive song for you.
PL: It is THE most aggressive song. It was my first track where I really used the analog electronica thing where I used my own samples and my modular synthesis, but I did use one vinyl sample that I didn’t create in that song but 90-95% of it was how A Colored Map Of The Sun Was Created. I actually specifically created that to be a 2011 Bonnaroo opening and we made a video of it. It was cool. It’s one of the most viewed PL videos on Youtube.
Overall, it was a real pleasure meeting with Pretty Lights. We were blown away at the quality and thought behind his responses. We can’t wait for the release of Color Map of the Sun on July 2nd. You’ll be able to get it for free at his website. And you can count on us reviewing the album as well.